Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life was written by George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, and its first volume was published in 1874 attracting huge success. The novel is rather unusual, as it is mainly a Victorian novel that has many modern characteristics.
Unlike women writers of her period, Eliot did not write conventional romance fictions filled with stereotypical fantasies, but realistic novels. She adopted an obscure tone and refused happy endings. Middlemarch is considered one of the major masterpieces of English fiction.
The novel is not a typical novel, but a set of relationships between several main characters where nobody is in the center of attention. It has multiple plots and many characters, while the action take place in Midlands, a fictitious town of Middlemarch between 1830 and 1832.
Two major life choices rule the action in this novel: marriage and vocation. There are three interwoven narratives till the final third: the marriage of Dorothea with Casaubon, the relationship of Lydgate and Rosamond and the relationship of Fred and Mary. The final thread brings forward Ladislaw and his relationship with Dorothea, recently a widow. In addition to the main stories, there are many other scenes that complete the perspective of the broad underlying themes and life aspects of the book.
The unrealistic ideals are dissected and presented from a realistic point of view. Marriages between incompatible people never reach harmony, while marriages based on compatibility are successful. Marriages in which women have something to say also seem to work better.
The book presents the effects of making the wrong choices both in marriage and profession. Dorothea, for example, suffers from confining to the domestic life, but her ambition to realize a social reform is never fulfilled while Rosamond`s shrewd abilities led her to vanity.
Themes and style
Provincial society is depicted in detail. Eliot`s purpose was to show how complex ordinary human life really is, with all its quiet tragedies, failings, small triumphs and estates of dignity. Throughout the novel, the reader shifts his sympathies – now we feel pity for Casaubon, a moment later we criticize him.
The major themes of Middlemarch are: marriage, social expectations, chance, self-determination, death, gossip, femininity, science, compassion, dreams and hopes.